The highs and lows of solo travel

Jemma Smith, Editor
February, 2016

Solo travel can provide a rich and varied learning experience but going it alone is a big decision. Let us help you weigh up the pros and cons

Gap years have become a rite of passage for students and graduates who want to see the world and experience different cultures before settling down to working life, but before you decide where to go you need to consider how to travel, and we're not talking about your mode of transport.

Something to think about

Whether you embark on your gap year alone or with friends will depend on a number of factors such as your reasons for travelling, individual preference and your expectations of the trip. Making the decision to go it alone is a brave one, but it needn't be as scary as you think.

'The vast majority of our travellers go solo. It's a great way to explore the world, we find that employers actively encourage students and graduates to travel independently in order to gain confidence, independence and decision making skills,' says Georgina Whittle, brand marketing manager at Real Gap Experience.

Gather together your gap year ideas and then research and forward plan to ensure your expedition goes without a hitch. Plan your route, make a rough itinerary and calculate your budget. Make sure all the important things like travel documents, visas and insurance is in place before you leave.

The highs

  • Flexibility - the lack of a travel companion means that you won't be held back by other people, other budgets or other expectations. 'Some people want to party all night long, while others want to get up early to watch the sun rise. Without anyone tagging along you can make your own decisions on how to get the most out of your trip,' explains Georgina.
  • Improved key skills - travelling alone, meeting new people, dealing with unfamiliar experiences and facing new challenges will vastly increase your confidence, communication and people skills, all highly sought after by employers. 'You will also learn to be independent and not to rely on others which is a fantastic life skill,' says Harriet Wray, travel adviser at Oyster Worldwide.
  • Making new friends - Once you're out there you'll find that it’s actually easier to meet people and make friends when you're travelling solo. You'll find that fellow lone travellers are really welcoming, as they'll want to make friends too.

The lows

  • Loneliness - you're bound to feel lonely at some point, however solo travellers are rarely solo for long. 'I guarantee that not long after starting your trip you'll introduce yourself to someone who will become a travel companion, whether just for a flight or to travel round a country with,' predicts Georgina. To combat loneliness join organised groups or projects.
  • Expense - no matter how well you budget, on occasion travelling solo can be expensive. Not being able to share the cost with a friend is a definite disadvantage. Going alone means there's no option to split a cab, go halves on a meal or share a room. There's also no one there to cover you if you lose your wallet or cash card.
  • Safety - you might not always have someone watching your back - you'll need to have your wits about you and employ your common sense when it comes to personal and financial safety. Keep in touch with your family back home and with fellow travellers. 'Inform people of your plans and your location,' advises Harriet. 'It's important to communicate your plans so that people know that you are safe.' Also research the culture and customs of the countries you are visiting, you don't want to fall foul of the law.

Making the most of it

By the time you reach your destination you've already overcome the hardest part - deciding to go solo, planning your trip and saying goodbye - so it's time to start making the most of it.

'Be friendly, smile a lot and make sure that you're approachable,' advises Harriet. 'Be open-minded and willing to give things a go. This will make your experience richer.'

Find out more

  • If you plan to work on your travels you should take a look at our working abroad profiles.

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